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International Socialism, June 1977


Joanna Rollo

Southern Africa After Soweto


From International Socialism (1st series), No.99, June 1977, pp.30-31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Southern Africa After Soweto
by John Rogers and Alex Callinicos
Pluto Press. £2.00

‘A YEAR ago a psychiatrist would have been recommended for you if you even thought about it let alone talked about it. But it happened – rather it’s happening – and the thousands of people who witnessed the historic occasion are as sober and sane as a High Court Judge.’

That was what the Zambian Times commented on the Victoria Falls meeting in 1975 between white nationalist Vorster and Prime Minister of South Africa and black nationalist Kaunda of Zambia. It was the beginning of détente and it marked a watershed in the history of Southern Africa. Since then the South African army has been defeated in Angola.

The Kissinger foray failed to ‘settle’ the crisis in Zimbabwe. Callaghan and Carter’s messenger boys may not get much further. Most significant of all – in June 1976 the townships of black south Africa exploded into revolutionary upsurge.

In Southern Africa After Soweto Alex Callinicos and John Rogers explain the background to the turmoil in Southern Africa. They show why detente became the only way South African capitalism could expand and survive and what is at stake in Zimbabwe. At £2.00 a copy the book is expensive but if you want to know what is happening and why in Southern Africa today, this is the key to understanding. For too long the ideas of the Communist Party and its fellow travellers have clouded, not to say distorted the Southern Africa picture.

The book shows the bankruptcy of the black nationalist illusions in economic independence from the world system. Today the nationalists have been forced by the crisis to bargain with those upon whom they once poured the most venomous rhetoric. In March 1976 Nyrere told the Observer ‘We are building up the pressure that will deliver Smith to London’. A year later, pressure is being applied by the Frontline five nationalist states to deliver the Zimbabwean freedom fighters to a ‘settlement’. That is the meaning of the Patriotic Front, formed at the behest of the five in order to gear the armed struggle to the needs of negotiations. As Callinicos and Rogers point out:

‘The solution lies not in opting out of the world economy but in smashing it. It means linking together national struggles in an international struggle.’

Southern Africa After Soweto traces the history of the African Working Class, from slave labour on the Boer farms in the 1700s to the introduction of apartheid in 1948 after a wave of workers struggles had been brutally crushed. Apartheid was the class solution for the white rulers of South Africa.

In the 1920s the South African Communist Party had 6,000 revolutionary black workers in its ranks, recruited through the struggle against unemployment and for the protection of black workers’ wages and jobs.

The book shows how that strength was dissipated by the twists and turns of the late twenties under the influence of the Stalinised Communist Party in Russia. The mass strike wave in Durban and Natal in 1973 won the first increase in real wages since the struggle of 1944. Apartheid was the means by which black workers were held down as a class throughout that period, yet the CP failed to draw the lesson that it was through the strike power and organisation of black workers that apartheid could be challenged. Instead they focussed their attention on the total denial of human rights implicit in the apartheid system. Today the SACP see the struggle as anti-colonial struggle – the coloniser being the white state – a struggle which demands the unity of all oppressed groups and classes. The ‘next stage’ is therefore ‘national independence and the destruction of white supremacy. Any more radical social demands would scare off groups like the African commercial class, whose development into a fullblown capitalist class is blocked by the apartheid system, and who would therefore support a struggle for national liberation but not one for socialism. For the South African Communist Party the fight against apartheid represents merely a necessary stage in the struggle for socialism’. On the contrary the destruction of apartheid means the destruction of the ruling order in South Africa – it means the seizure of power by the black working class. None have understood that more clearly than the youth of Soweto. In June 76 they confronted one of the most highly trained, militarily sophisticated armed forces in the world with nothing more than their bare hands and the sticks and stones they could find by the roadside.

And it was to the black working class that the Soweto youth looked for support, with the calls for the stay at home and the general strike.

‘However their rebellion has its limits. Young unemployed blacks and school children do not have the power to topple apartheid. That power lies only in the hands of the black working class, which did not take the lead in the Soweto events. Workers acted, massively, but only in response to, in solidarity with, the initiatives of the black youth’.

South Africa relies on the West, Britain, the US, France and Germany to provide the capital and technology to improve productivity, but productivity increases mean replacing black workers with machines. More and more will join the vast army of unemployed in the townships and ‘homelands’ – over 20% of the labour force in 1976 were unemployed. 50% of Soweto residents are jobless.

The Soweto uprising gave new heart to the black masses. In the month that followed struggle broke out in the Bantustans. The workers in the Pilkington subsidiary, Armour Plate Glass, held out a 10 week strike in protest at the victimisation of shop floor leaders – in a country where a three hour strike by black workers is significant

Southern Africa After Soweto is being published one year after the Soweto rising. In Soweto today, unemployment is soaring, prices and fares have rocketed. A few weeks ago rents were put up by 70%. The task of revolutionaries in this country is not to mourn the dead of a year ago, but to hail the dawning of a new wave of struggle. As Alex Callinicos and John Rogers state:

‘It is certain that liberation will be the product of a long and bitter struggle, and the central factor in that struggle will be the black working class. Whether a revolution does take place under its leadership cannot be left to the spontaneous working of events. It will require the activity of numerous revolutionary socialists to translate the hatred of apartheid shown during the black youth rebellion of 1976 into the struggle for power with the factories. As yet none of the existing organisations of the black resistance see that task as central – to build a mass revolutionary workers’ party independent of the national organisations.’

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